Supreme Court Cancels Maratha Quota in Maharashtra, Says it Violates Equality

The Supreme Court on Wednesday cancelled the Maratha quota in Maharashtra and said it cannot exceed 50% as it violates equality.

In its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the Bombay High Court verdict which had upheld the grant of reservation to Marathas in admissions and government jobs in the state, it Supreme Court said, “We do not find reason in revisiting the Indira Sawhney judgment, we follow and reiteration proposition followed in Sawhney. The ratio laid down in Sawhney is fully applicable in Article 15 of the Constitution.”

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan and comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, S Abdul Nazeer, Hemant Gupta and S Ravindra Bhat pronounced the verdict on the matter. Justice Bhushan said that in the four judgments delivered one was delivered by him and on behalf of Justice Nazeer. The second is by Justice Rao, Justice Bhat and Justice Gupta.

The Supreme Court had reserved its verdict on a bunch of petitions on March 26, which saw a long hearing. Submissions were made to seeking reconsideration by a larger bench of the landmark 1992 Indra Sawhney verdict (called the Mandal judgement), which put a cap of 50 per cent on reservations. In this verdict, the court had capped reservation at 50% apart from “extraordinary circumstances”.

The constitution bench had began hearing arguments in the matter on March 15. It had said that it proposes to consider issues, including whether the judgement in the Indra Sawhney case needs to be referred to or requires re-look by a larger bench in the light of subsequent constitutional amendments, judgments and changed social dynamics of the society. The high court, while upholding the law in June 2019, had held that 16 per cent reservation was not justifiable and the quota should not exceed 12 per cent in employment and 13 per cent in admissions.

The Centre had argued that Maharashtra has the legislative competence for granting reservation to Marathas and its decision is Constitutional as the 102nd amendment does not denude a state of the power to declare its list of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC). The 102nd Constitution amendment Act of 2018 inserted Articles 338B, which deals with the structure, duties and powers of the National Commission for Backward Class (NCBC), and 342A dealing with power of the President to notify a particular caste as SEBC as also of Parliament to change the list. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, had said that in its view, the SEBC Act 2018 of Maharashtra granting reservation to people of the Maratha community in the state in jobs and admissions is Constitutional.

The Centre is of the view that the Maharashtra SEBC Act is constitutional. We construe Article 342A gives enabling role to Central government to determine the SEBC, Mehta had said, adding that the Centre adopts the submissions of the Attorney General and it should be considered as the view of the Union government. On March 18, Attorney General K K Venugopal had told the top court that the 102nd amendment to the Constitution does not deprive state legislatures to enact law determining the SEBC and conferring benefits on them. The apex court had on September 9 last year stayed the implementation of legislation and referred to a larger bench the batch of pleas challenging the validity of law, but made it clear that status of those who have availed of the benefits would not be disturbed.

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